Travel Doesn’t Cure Depression

 

A note from present-day Ally:

I originally wrote this post during the summer of 2017, while living in Italy. I never finished the post or shared it publicly. Now, more than 3 years later, I want to use this post as a segue into a new chapter of my blog. I might not be traveling “all over the place” anymore, but my mind tends to still be moving a mile a minute. I’ll still be talking about travel, when it happens, but mostly, this blog will be about dealing with mental illness on top of daily life. It will often be about work, grad school, and my dog. It will be about bad dates, relationships, friendships, and family drama. It will be about all the small things that make life so crazy and so great. As always, I can’t promise I will update often (which should be pretty obvious by now…), but my goal is to continue to use this outlet as a way to express myself.

Last year, via Instagram, I made a promise to love myself again. This is all part of that journey.

xo

(Content warning: depression, anxiety)

Ciao a tutti!

Another couple of months have passed since my last post and it is officially summer here in Angiari, Italy.  tenorAnd even though I am slowly turning into a puddle of sweat as I type this, I am very committed to serving you mediocre blog posts about my life, on a nowhere near regular basis, no matter how hot it is. No need to thank me. I peel my sweaty thighs off of chairs one at a time, just like everyone else. 

But it’s not just the humid weather that is making my hands so clammy that I have to wipe them off with a towel every few minutes. I guess I’m really just nervous, because in this post I’ll be addressing something a little more personal than usual, something that I’ve never publicly shared before. At least, not like this, not for the entire world to see. For the past several months, I’ve been wrestling with how to approach a blog post that deals with depression and anxiety. How do I make it personal, but also relatable? How do I avoid somehow offending my family and friends? How do I say what I want to say without appearing whiny or ungrateful? tumblr_inline_om7by7lRIa1sef6ab_500.gif
Until recently, I didn’t know if I actually wanted to post something like this publicly or simply keep it to myself as something to reflect on. I’ve finally convinced myself that I just need to rip off the bandage.

After all, I did promise in my first post that I’d be able to share with you what it is like to travel with depression and anxiety. Yet, until now, I have avoided the topic almost entirely. As someone who aspires to be a psychologist one day,  I really should know better than to feel ashamed or embarrassed about any kind of mental illness. I can’t preach “#FightTheStigma” to my peers on social media if I’m afraid to talk about my own experiences. But the truth is, I am ashamed. giphy-3

I have no issue writing to you all about ADHD because, in many ways, I have “made peace” with the disorder. It took me about 15 years, but I no longer beat myself up over symptoms that I cannot control. I am no longer ashamed to take my medicine. I am who I am because of my ADHD. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to feel the same way about my depression and anxiety.

Before I go any further, I should probably give you a little background information about my disorders. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder when I was sixteen-years-old. If I’m honest, I wasn’t necessarily shocked by this diagnosis. Even as a child, there would be nights that I would cry myself to sleep, simply because I felt like I was disappointing my family. I have found diary entries (if you can even call them that) from when I was very young, in which I would write over and over again that I hated myself and that everyone else hated me too. I wrote about not looking in the mirror when I washed my hands at school because I hated what I saw. I wrote about wanting to run away because I didn’t deserve to keep living at home. This is where things get tricky. It’s hard to explain why on earth I would feel all these emotions at such a young age. I know for a fact that I had a great childhood. I had friends and parents who loved me. I was well taken care of. I was supported.

But that’s the thing about depression, sometimes you just can’t explain it. 

As I got older, my desire to run away was replaced by a desire to fall asleep and never wake up. I now know that this is not a “normal” thing for a young girl to be thinking, but at the time, I thought everyone felt the way I did. Who could love their life so much that they wanted to be alive all the time? It wasn’t until my high school noticed something was wrong that I finally was forced to ask for help.  depressionI started seeing a therapist and taking medication. For the most part, it all really helped. The medication had a few side effects, of course, but I was finally taking care of myself.

 It wasn’t until the weeks leading up to my first year of college that, for some reason, I started to feel embarrassed about it all. Why did I have to take medicine to feel “normal?” Couldn’t I succeed without therapy and pills? The shame and embarrassment that I associated with taking antidepressants and going to a shrink eventually caused me to stop treating my depression and anxiety entirely. I told myself that I could handle college “just like everyone else.” Instead of running away from home, like I wanted so badly to do as a child, I decided to run away from my depression. 

Five years later, I am now 23. My depression and anxiety still go untreated. I have my good days and I have my really, really bad days. While I am embarrassed for people to see this side of me, I think it is important that I share what it is like to live with untreated mental illnesses.giphy-6

For those of you who are already bored with this blog, here is the TLDR: you cannot run away from your depression. You can’t just pack up your bags and leave your anxiety at home. Mental illness doesn’t disappear just because you buy a plane ticket. 

For the rest of you, my goal in telling my story is not for you to feel bad for me. A lot of people are affected by mental illness and I am in no way special.  I am telling my story because maybe there is someone out there who needs to hear it. Maybe they are afraid of getting help or too embarrassed to seek treatment. Maybe they feel like they need to run away. If that’s the case, I’m here to share one thing: Travel doesn’t cure depression. 

 

 

 

 

 

Out With the Old, in With the FOMO

Ciao a tutti! Hello everyone!

I know, I know. It’s been a while, but I’ve finally managed to get my act together long enough to write another post. I wish I could say I’ve been super busy, but as you know, I just love to procrastinate (See: For Real This Time…). Here in Italy, the winter cold is far behind us and Easter is just around the corner. Spring is, and always has been, my favorite season. I’ll admit, I’m even more thrilled to be spending it in Angiari, where I don’t have to worry about surprise blizzards in May. Regardless of where you live, there’s something so beautiful about this time of change and new beginnings. There are the obvious changes, like the snow melting, flowers blooming, students graduating, and of course, baseball starting up again (sorry, had to “toss” that in somewhere). There are also changes that aren’t as easy to see, changes that occur within ourselves.

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March looks good on Angiari!

I have experienced a lot of these more personal changes during my time abroad. Some of them I’m very happy about: gaining the confidence to travel on my own, learning a new language, and relying on my family less. I mean, don’t get too excited, there is still plenty of room for improvement in all these areas, but I definitely have made some progress. There have also been changes that I’m not exactly thrilled about, and I’m not just talking about six hour time changes or changes in my pant size (lol, thank you, pasta). The hardest change I’ve had to overcome is the change of traditions. Out with the old, in with the new.

Right now, back in the Midwest, my family is making plans for Easter–who’s hosting it, what kind of potatoes to make (cheesy, duh)–and placing bets on whether or not Nick will make it through lunch without taking his shirt off (you’re welcome for that shout out, big bro). If I were at home, I would be making arrangements to sing in church or I’d be picking out the perfect Easter dress, preferably one that hides my inevitable food-baby. Of course, this year, my Easter will be a lot different. Furthermore, as spring speeds past us and summer arrives, my friends will hang out more.

200.gifThere will be music festivals, baseball games, and days spent on the lake. They’ll have new inside jokes and they’ll make new memories. Though I am incredibly happy and blessed to be living in Italy, I can’t help but think about these “new memories” and how I won’t be apart of them. While I am living my life here, everything is still going on back home. I have a severe case of F.O.M.O.
giphy-3In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, FOMO is the fear of missing out. It’s something you’ll inevitably experience when you live 5,000 miles from home. For me, it’s the hardest thing about living overseas and this is probably due to my ADHD. It doesn’t matter how hard I try to be in the current moment, it’s constantly interrupted by an explosion of thoughts about what’s going on back home. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that I would get homesick, but I didn’t know I would miss so many things. It’s as if my homesickness is amplified by my ADHD.

Now I don’t mean to be *that person* and complain about living in Italy, but as I read more and more blogs about other people’s experiences as au pairs, I’ve noticed that this is something that is often ignored. We all try to create this illusion that we are perfectly happy living abroad and being away from our family and friends, but the truth is, we think about it everyday. Well, I do at least.

That being said, the point of this post isn’t just to tell you how much I’ve missed my mom’s baked corn and my brother’s wacky sense of humor. It’s also meant to show you how I’ve learned to enjoy new traditions and experiences, even though I’m missing out on the old ones. To explain, I’ll have to take you back in time a few months, to where my FOMO was the strongest: the holiday season.

Thanksgiving

I could write an entire blog post purely devoted to the Klug Family Thanksgiving. I usually look forward to it all year, but this year, I was dreading it. I wasn’t going to be able to watch the parade with my grandma or eat the amazing meal prepared by my mother (seriously, this latter part is very important. I know everyone thinks their mom, or maybe their grandma, is the world’s best cook, but I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: my mom is better. Especially on Thanksgiving). Besides missing out on the amazing food, I also wouldn’t be able to participate in our post-dinner traditions, like playing “Up and Down the River” while watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

While I am sad to have missed out on these traditions this year, I really can’t complain too much. As always, my host family had my back! Francesca and her teacher invited me to come to the school and teach the third grade classes about Thanksgiving in America. Processed with VSCO with e5 presetI had to review a few things before hand (American history has never really been my area of expertise), but this experience pushed me out of my comfort zone, in a good way; I never thought I would be standing in front of a room full of Italian eight year olds, talking about turkeys and the pilgrims. It also allowed me to reflect on what this holiday is really about. This year, I was reminded that it’s not about where I celebrate or who I celebrate with, but to be grateful for what I’ve been given and the opportunities that lay before me. IMG_0690The weekend after Thanksgiving, Elisabetta and I spent the day making (or attempting to make) my mom’s usual recipes. There were a few ingredients we couldn’t find and neither of us had cooked a turkey before, but I wouldn’t change a single thing if I could. Elisabetta festively decorated the dining room table and Francesca and I displayed the paper cornucopias we had made earlier that week.FullSizeRender-6 It was the perfect meal and it was spent with my favorite Italian family. We even watched Home Alone, a more kid-friendly movie favorite of the Klug family. I might have missed out on a few things back home, but I will forever have a new Thanksgiving memory and my host family might even have a few new traditions of their own.

**EDIT: While visiting home this March, my mom was wonderful enough to throw a second Thanksgiving dinner. I guess I got the best of both worlds!

Christmas 

I honestly thought being away from home during Christmas time would be harder than it was. There were a few things I definitely missed: the snow, singing in church on Christmas Eve, and of course, my family’s holiday traditions. For the most part, however, I was just excited to experience Christmas in a different part of the world. Each Italian city I visited was perfectly decorated with hanging lights and giant Christmas trees. It didn’t matter if I was in Florence, Milan, Venice, Verona, or even small town Angiari, each was as beautiful as the one before it.

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Christmas tree in Piazza della Repubblica, Florence

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Santa Race on the Grand Canal, Venice

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Christmas tree in Piazza San Marco, Venice

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Christmas tree in Piazza del Duomo, Milan

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The Christmas Star outside the Arena, Verona

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Finally: the decorations in the center of Angiari

I was able to experience some of my favorite holiday traditions while also enjoying new ones. I watched my Christmas movies with Francesca (she may or may not be afraid of the Grinch now). I drank hot chocolate after a day spent ice skating or shopping. I taught Francesca and her classmates the words to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I even got to hear a recording of this year’s Christmas at Luther (shameless plug for my Alma Mater), something I was worried I would miss out on. We celebrated the arrival of not only Santa Claus, but also Santa Lucia and Befana. I even saw Sinterklaas during a weekend trip to Amsterdam!

However, the distractions could only last for so long. My FOMO eventually came back. Christmas Eve had its ups and downs. I loved celebrating with my host family and exchanging gifts by the Christmas tree, but it felt strange to not be getting ready for church or eating oyster stew with my family. Instead of dwelling on this, I decided to spend part of my night rereading the story of Jesus’s birth and listening to my favorite hymns. The rest of my night was spent with my friends in a nearby town, celebrating in the streets and cheering when the clock finally struck midnight. On Christmas day, FOMO hit me once again. My dad sent me a text wishing me a “Merry Christmas!” followed by photo of my brothers and cousins. Again, I refused to worry too much about what I was missing back home and decided to instead have a little fun. Refusing to be left out of any family photo, I sent my dad a series of new ones, with me photoshopped into them. My family had a good laugh and I was able to be (somewhat) a part of their Christmas celebration.

The holiday season was definitely a little rough at times. I cried more than I’m willing to admit. Easter and the summer months will bring along their share of challenges as well. However, I’m learning that I can’t let FOMO interfere with what’s going on right in front of me. I also can’t allow myself to feel guilty about not being able to physically be there for my family and friends. Italy is where I’m meant to be right now and I hope they understand that. In the spirit of springtime, I refuse to be sad about what might be different here or what I am missing out on back home. This is the time to celebrate every new beginning and cherish all the little changes, whether they are big changes, like searching for my first “big girl” job; or small, like celebrating Easter with a new friend.

I’m excited for whatever comes my way this primavera. Sometimes, it’ll be hard. Sometimes calling my best friend or FaceTiming my mom (and dog) won’t be enough. I’ll dread seeing Facebook posts and Instagram photos shared by my friends. I’ll want to go home; but FOMO will be there no matter where I go, it’s a part of life. Our happiness depends on how we decide to deal with it.  

I hope you all have a blessed Easter, full of change and new life!

See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come…” (Song of Solomon 2:11-12). 

For Real This Time…

I’m doing it. I’m finally doing it. No more excuses. No more anxieties. I’m freaking doing it.

I’m starting a blog.

Okay, but if I’m honest with you guys, even as I type this, my inner dialogue is going something like:

Me: Just take it one word at a time

Me to me: Go to bed and finish tomorrow morning. 

Me: But I promised myself I’d finish toni-

Me to me: You have 8 more days before the Gilmore Girls revival and you’re only on season 4 of the original series…


So, the evil Kermit won. I started writing this on Thursday night and it is now Monday. You win some, you lose some. As I was saying…

I’m starting a blog (for real this time).

I know this doesn’t appear to be much of an endeavor. Lately it seems like everyone and their dog has a blog of some kind (there’s literally a show on Disney Channel about it. Spoiler: it’s terrible). For me, however, blogging is a challenge; it is the mountain that I am never ready to climb.

Why? I guess you can *blame it on my ADD, baby* (sorry, even I hate that I said that).

I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was in the second grade. If you somehow have never heard of it, ADHD stands for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and just in case there is any confusion: YES it is a real thing, YES it is a chronic illness that, for some, requires lifelong treatment, and NO this is not up for debate. Moving on…

You might be thinking, “What does this have to do with her struggling to start a blog?” and my response is “Everything.” But for the purpose of this post, my reasoning can be summed up into a single word:


I know, I know. Now and then, everybody is guilty of procrastinating. It’s human. However, I, ladies and gentlemen, am the Beyoncé (read: queen) of procrastination.

It is my superpower, given to me by the radioactive spider that is ADHD. And my weakness? Anything that requires time and commitment. Do you know what takes time and commitment? B L O G G I N G.

Is this starting to make sense now? Let me break it down a little more.

For me, starting a blog is like starting a college research paper. At first, I’m excited and I promise to get started right away. Inevitably, seven weeks will pass, and not a single word will be written. To avoid failing, I’ll work like a crazy person for two days–not stopping to eat or sleep–until I have produced a decent paper. But this isn’t a college research paper. There are no deadlines or final grades. In other words, there’s no extrinsic motivation. It’s all up to me and THAT is what makes this so difficult. Without some sort of external reward or consequence, I will continue to put this off.

Now you might be thinking, “Ok, so just don’t do it? Find a new hobby? Move on with your life?” And, yeah, I guess that is an option. But here’s the thing: today’s “starting a blog” is tomorrow’s “running a marathon” or next year’s “finding a job.” If I continue to succumb to my procrastinating ways, I will never learn. I will never progress. More importantly, I want to do this. I want to write about my travels and my experiences abroad. Fifty years from now, I want to be able to remember the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done. I want to share these stories with my family and friends. I finally have enough intrinsic motivation and I am ready to give up my procrastination superpowers.

Basically, this blog is an “assignment” that is six years overdue.

The first time I thought of starting a blog was after my Junior year of high school as I was getting ready to go to Spain. It was my first trip abroad and I wanted to document everything. I was already an avid writer and lover of social media, so I thought it would be easy. However, saying “I’ll do it later” turned into “maybe on my next trip…” and eventually, the pictures were all filed away or lost on old USB sticks and many of my experiences in Spain were quickly forgotten. Now, six years, seven countries, and countless forgotten trips later, I am finally learning my lesson.

About four months ago, I decided to move to Italy to work as an au pair. Not only would this give me time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, it would also allow me to travel more. Upon hearing this news, my close friend and fellow globetrotter, Molly, recommended that I write about my adventures abroad. I thought YES. I’m finally doing this. If the Cubs can win a World Series, I can start a blog.

Even though I was finally ready to start climbing ‘Blog Mountain,’ it took me a couple months to decide what I really wanted to write about. There are thousands of travel blogs out there, written by people who are much more talented and worldly than myself. I wanted to find a way to make mine different. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my experiences are, in fact, different.

In my blog, you won’t find an organized list of museums to visit or restaurants to avoid. You won’t find a detailed history of the last city I visited. Actually, you’ll be lucky if I even remember the name of the city! No, I can’t write about that stuff, but I can write about traveling with ADHD.

During a tour, I’ll forget most of what the guide says because I’ll be distracted by the noises around me, but I’ll be able to tell you everything about the other tourists. Most days, I’ll get lost, probably because I forgot to pack a map, but I’ll be able to tell you about the perfect café I discovered as a result.

Sometimes, I’ll be emotional. I’ll cry and I’ll freak out in public places, but I’ll be able to tell you about traveling with depression and anxiety (disorders that co-occur with ADHD). I’ll write about all of my experiences, the good and the bad; when I fail and when I succeed. I’ll write about what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown. Maybe it’ll be good, maybe it’ll absolutely suck, I don’t know. That’s the fun of it.

So. This is it. This is me turning in my assignment after six years of saying “I’ll do it later.” This is my blog. Like my mind, it’s going to be ~all over the place~.  I’m okay with that.